David Ivar dips into his back catalogue and re-records a selection of songs with minimal instrumentation, special guests and some seriously impressive results.
Herman Dune’s latest album, ‘The Portable Herman Dune Vol.1′, isn’t strictly a new one. It’s an acoustic anthology – the first of three parts – on which songwriter and vocalist/ guitarist David Ivar revisit songs from Herman Dune’s 22-year career, but in a stripped-down style. The record was recorded live at Ivar’s studio, Cruz Records, a wooden cabin in San Pedro, Los Angeles, where he has produced all of Herman Dune’s albums since 2012.
As a result of the pandemic, Ivar started doing a weekly online show from his kitchen, which included live performances. It was this that inspired him to make another album.“I got back in touch with my lyrics and voice. Playing from my own songbook was like re-discovering the tunes for the first time. Some songs really stood out as having gained strength and meaning, and I started thinking of recording them for an album. It felt like this was the way it should always have been,” he says.
“The more I recorded, the more songs I had on my hands, and I got more excited. I had more songs than could be listened to at once, and they were all so important to me, so I started thinking in volumes.”
All the songs on the album are based around Ivar on guitar and vocals, but there’s also mandolin, harmonica, upright bass, melodica, accordion or piano, and two pieces feature Jolie Holland on violin, with whom Ivar has recorded the soundtrack for Edouard Deluc’s new film, ‘Petaouchnok’. Other guests on the album include Julie Doiron, Mayon (Ivar’s life partner), Caitlin Rose and Kimya Dawson.
Opener ‘Why Would That Hurt? (If You Never Loved Me) is fragile and bittersweet – “I guess it’s not right but in a way I think that for some reason I wish you hurt a bit. But you don’t cause I’m not the kind who leaves marks in girls’ hearts and make them cry at night. And hold their teddy bears tight.”
‘Black Dog’ is wonderful – a stark, haunting, autumnal and folky ballad, with Nick Drake-style fingerpicking – funnily enough, it shares its title with one of Drake’s bleakest songs. Musically, I Wish That I Could See You Soon, with Rose on guest vocals – also has a folk feel – Bert Jansch or early Dylan. One of the songs that Ivar learnt to play guitar to is Dylan’s ‘Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright’, and you can hear the influence several times, including on the instrumental, ‘Paulette, Pt.1 (No Cocaine).’
‘Next Year in Zion’ has a similar trad vibe and a narcotic reference: “I remember the drugs we did. I was doing crystal – you were on opioid,” while the Hank Williams-like ballad, The Static Comes From My Broken Heart, is both entertaining and devastating: “There is nothing wrong with the stereo, well the static comes from my broken-down heart.”
‘The Portable Herman Dune Vol.1’ is a brilliant collection – naked, raw, intimate, wry and emotional. “I don’t know if these are classic songs, but they sure are to me,” says Ivar. It’s hard to argue with him. Roll on Vol.2 and 3.